Issue 7

The Art of Being Cheap


                Some generations call it being frugal, where you watch every penny as it leaves your pocket and only let it go reluctantly.  I prefer the term cheap; it's short and businesslike.  In my case, it's also a lot more honest.  Frugal implies some kind of virtue, that every purchase is well thought out and made only out of necessity.  I definitely have more than I need in my life.  For example, I own more than two pairs of underwear (you need one to wear while you wash the other pair).  I am amazed at the mountain of clothes Rebecca and I can build when we decide not to do laundry for a few weeks.

                No, cheap is like the tacky second cousin of frugal.  Cheap has a complete tool set, but bought it at a swap meet.  Swap meet tools tend to break as you remove them from their plastic embryos, but that's okay because cheap never uses them.  The idea is to own, to possess, but at the least cost.

                One of my favorite forms of cheap is free.  Every few months I get a call from one of those time-share vacation groups to come in for a no-obligation presentation where they throw in a free vacation just for looking.  I go down all excited, knowing full well that I have no intention to buy.  The problem is that I also have no intention of using the free vacation to Las Vegas valid only between the dates of January 4 and 6.  But it was free.

                When I can't get free, close-to-free will do.  A few years ago I discovered a music clubs that said they would send me 10 "free" CDs if I promised to buy one at the regular club price of $75.  It turns out I have to pay $3 for each CD for shipping and handling, which isn't free but is still pretty good.  Now we have so many CDs we can play almost any song anyone requests.  It's especially thrilling to remove the shrink wrap in front of the requestor, like we bought the CD because we knew he or she would ask for it.  Even better, I get 4 "free" CDs when I sign up a friend.  (Get this: the postage is pre-paid when I do this!)  My dog Dioge loves classical music and Bahroo alternative rock.  My son is currently exploring the joys of jazz.

                Restaurants and other service businesses are another great resource for us cheap folks.  I've mastered the art of the Complaint Letter.  Let a car rental company accidentally give me a smoking car and I'll write them into such a tizzy that they'll send me a free rental coupon.  This technique also works for dinners delivered with cold fries, movies with "poor" sound, and hotels that mess up my reservation.    Unfortunately, I haven't yet figured out how to get it to work on doctors who make me wait an hour past my appointment time before they'll see me.

                I like to think I take cheap to a whole new level: I've discovered that I can sell my blood for money.  In fact, I've sold so much blood this year the hospital has to report it to the IRS.  I realize this is technically income, but it doesn't quite sit right with me.  The IRS can tax the labor of my back and the labor of my mind, but when they want to tax my blood, that I have a problem with.  Somehow it seems sinister and evil, and in that very appropriate for the IRS.

                Unfortunately, selling my blood has changed me.  I swear I went in the first time for the money.  But they made me walk through the cancer research center and all the dollars turned into people.  My blood donation may one day help some of these people, if they live long enough to see the fruits of the research.  Don't get me wrong, I still take the money, but my cheap streak has been broken.  Now I see the world in terms of time I could spend with my family and friends, instead of all the money I can save or the "free" stuff, which is never free, that I can acquire.  Suddenly, taking a half hour to write a complaint letter to get a free chicken sandwich seems like a complete waste of time.  If I want a chicken sandwich, certainly I can afford to buy it for myself (that's what the blood money is for).  I will continue to write letters but letters that can bring about positive change like squaring away my favorite restaurant so that I want to go back instead of letters that get me a free dinner at a restaurant I no longer want to visit. 

                I'll miss being cheap, of being able to look over my hoard of "free" stuff with satisfaction.  But it's okay.  I get one last hurrah at the garage sale this Saturday where I plan to put out all of the worthless stuff I've collected over the years.  Come on by.  I'm selling everything real cheap.


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